Less Tarzan, more Jane
I have decided not to let on that this is my first time in a harness. Instead I mince around the wide trunks of towering trees, feigning nonchalance, but secretly disturbed by my weird new skirt of flapping rope and metal. It’s a tight fit and my baby-making equipment has been scrunched into a sort of painful bouquet. Alongside a gaggle of excitable Latin Americans I make my way towards the zip-lines which are stretched out above us deep in the cloud forest of Costa Rica.
Our first job is to sign a form that we all venture a cursory glance at beforehand. It states something less succinct but along the lines off - ‘Death is always, ALWAYS, your own stupid fault. (Always).’ At the end hides some small print clause which details the consequences of suing, and which I’m guessing grants the company the legal right to eat your close relatives. Or something equally terrifying.
The instructor begins by feeding us a series of breezy understatements, which under different circumstances I might read as quite endearing, like when a weather man refers to storm force gales as "a little blowy".
"This (acted-out example) is a bad idea. OK?"
The "bad ideas" include spinning wildly, dangling incompetently without holding on to anything, a panic inspired clutch of the zip-line at a point before the racing pulley, and a suicidal leap into remote foliage. I nod and trudge off, silent and sure that if someone is going to require an embarrassing rescue mid line, it will be me.
As we shuffle towards the first canopy platform and zip line someone petitions the group "Um... why are we doing this?". The obvious answers - for the kicks, for bragging rights, for the adrenaline infused hell of it - remain unvoiced. Right now, they just aren’t good enough reasons.
The nerves though soon settle as one by one we glide surely through branches and ready ourselves for the next of the eleven wires we will conquer. As we gather confidence the lines lengthen, our velocity peaks and the sun sags in the sky steeping the tree tops in a bronze haze. My greatest fear though doesn’t abate - that a small swinging mammal, perhaps a monkey, oblivious to the thrill junkies invading it's habitat, will attach to my face mid zip line in a fashion not dissimilar to the opening scenes of the first Alien movie.
[It's a tight fit and my baby-making equipment has been scrunched into a sort of painful bouquet]
The last but one is known as "The Superman" because the line is now attached in mysterious fashion to your back and the idea is that you will whizz over the trees in perfect imitation of the eponymous superhero. I suppose in a way we all pull off the Superman, but only if Superman was wailing like a lost child and was more than a little concerned about actually possessing the ability to fly or survive a thirty metre free fall.
The last obstacle to beer and jubilation has the unnerving epithet of ´The Mega Tarzan Swing´. The second hint that I should be taking this seriously is the body that had graced the queue before me, the body which has now stepped off a platform, embraced the vertical and disappeared from view in milliseconds. Can the nomenclature be right? Tarzan would never have attempted such an audacious manoeuvre, and swing? What swing?
Soon I am harried to the platform to meet our instructor and a junior who is clearly learning the trade - my nervous eyes fix on the newbie wondering if this is the Adventure Sport equivalent of letting a high school student who does OK in Science class perform an appendectomy. Before my incipient panic attack takes control of my legs someone throws open a gate and I begin a sentence I will never complete. It starts "What’s going to happen when..."
Pressure on my back is the prelude to a sharp drop and I learn what sound I would make in my final seconds if ever I come to a sudden, untimely death (It’s an effeminate, quivering trill - think front man of a failed glam rock band). Then all of a sudden I'm swinging (Swinging! No more dropping!) elatedly over forest.
During this ordeal a photographer records the emotions etched onto our faces. Later I will peruse the images of me "enjoying" the experience to find that my zip line face is similar to the expression I would pull if I were making sweet love to Salma Heyek - earnest, excited and a little confused.
For a time I watch from below as the parade of vine-less Tarzans take the plunge and make a cacophony of shrieks and guttural groans. The most popular is the classic scatological curse word – “SHHHHHHHHHHHIIIIIITTTTTTTT!” – reverberates around the forest scattering the native bird life.
Every so often the guides will shout "No, wait!" as they push someone off the platform, making the faller wonder whether something should have been attached but wasn't. Being a heartless bastard, it seems, comes with the job. I admire though the tactics of the guides - no doubt the result of actually telling people what to expect only to find that some would capitulate at the last second. No, it's better this way, ignorance really is bliss.